On Wednesday 18th March, I took my Golden Retriever, Eddie out for a walk. Nothing unusual in that, I do it every day. On this particular day I was nearing home when I found myself talking to Steve a neighbour from the bottom of his drive. Steve used to be my bank manager in the days when we still had a bank in the village! Steve and I often bump into one another (not literally, obviously – strict 2 metres are observed! ), and often end up talking about education (His wife is a retired Head).
On this particular day, Steve and I agreed that this was a really tough time to be a school leader. It was, of course, the momentous day that the government announced that schools should close to all but vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers. Not announcing what constituted a key worker until around midnight on the Thursday, caused many leaders a sleepless night and gave them only the Friday to put their plans in place for the following week. That Friday will have been for most school leaders, a wild frenzy of organising rotas, planning work to send home, sending out information to parents and reassuring pupils, for some of whom, this was unexpectedly likely to be their last day. And then last, but by no-means least, there were the dedicated and hard-working staff, who understandably had worries of their own and a million questions, many of which, there were no answers for, in a vacuum of information and guidance from central government.
That all seems a long time ago, but in reality, it is just a few short weeks – so much has happened. I genuinely believe that the vast majority of school leaders are in it for the right reasons and genuinely care greatly about the physical and emotional well-being of their staff. They want to get it right but it is a juggling act.
I was talking to a great friend, the other day. She is a primary headteacher and we were once co-heads together. She shared her tips for supporting staff well-being in these difficult times:
It’s all about remembering our “why”
Communication: If staff are in the know they feel better! Lines of communication have been maintained as usual with ALL staff. As soon as I know – they know. This has continued – Whatsapp / Zoom / email – all an absolute godsend at this time. Not just used for “information”, but for support, encouragement, praise, comfort, laughter.
Appreciation: Ensuring rotas are transparent, balanced and fair, supporting those with underlying health conditions to stay at home, but giving them specific roles and making them feel valuable, giving everyone the same Easter break – a time to rest, recharge, reflect and energise; free school meal for those “at” work – and those all-important staff room treats!
Reassurance: Listening and more importantly “hearing” those worries, those concerns, those fears (maintaining an open door) – and responding with genuine care, understanding and consideration – if you need a minute – that’s OK! Having that uplifting message just when it’s needed!
Encouragment: Saying “thank you” – positive message postcards, birthday cards, making known how proud I am of the work the staff have put in to make our new school life work especially in maintaining good learning for all children and engagement with home! Establishing somehow a sense of normality in a somewhat abnormal time! Routine, structure, purpose – remembering our “Why!” – To live, laugh and learn together! ‘
CARE – Brilliant advice in difficult times.
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